Neurodegenerative disorders have been reported in elite athletes who participated in contact sports. The incidence of neurodegenerative disease among former professional soccer players has not been well characterized.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study to compare mortality from neurodegenerative disease among 7676 former professional soccer players (identified from databases of Scottish players) with that among 23,028 controls from the general population who were matched to the players on the basis of sex, age, and degree of social deprivation. Causes of death were determined from death certificates. Data on medications dispensed for the treatment of dementia in the two cohorts were also compared. Prescription information was obtained from the national Prescribing Information System.
Over a median of 18 years, 1180 former soccer players (15.4%) and 3807 controls (16.5%) died. All-cause mortality was lower among former players than among controls up to the age of 70 years and was higher thereafter. Mortality from ischemic heart disease was lower among former players than among controls (hazard ratio, 0.80; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.66 to 0.97; P=0.02), as was mortality from lung cancer (hazard ratio, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.40 to 0.70; P<0.001). Mortality with neurodegenerative disease listed as the primary cause was 1.7% among former soccer players and 0.5% among controls (subhazard ratio [the hazard ratio adjusted for competing risks of death from ischemic heart disease and death from any cancer], 3.45; 95% CI, 2.11 to 5.62; P<0.001). Among former players, mortality with neurodegenerative disease listed as the primary or a contributory cause on the death certificate varied according to disease subtype and was highest among those with Alzheimer’s disease (hazard ratio [former players vs. controls], 5.07; 95% CI, 2.92 to 8.82; P<0.001) and lowest among those with Parkinson’s disease (hazard ratio, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.17 to 3.96; P=0.01). Dementia-related medications were prescribed more frequently to former players than to controls (odds ratio, 4.90; 95% CI, 3.81 to 6.31; P<0.001). Mortality with neurodegenerative disease listed as the primary or a contributory cause did not differ significantly between goalkeepers and outfield players (hazard ratio, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.43 to 1.24; P=0.24), but dementia-related medications were prescribed less frequently to goalkeepers (odds ratio, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.19 to 0.89; P=0.02).
In this retrospective epidemiologic analysis, mortality from neurodegenerative disease was higher and mortality from other common diseases lower among former Scottish professional soccer players than among matched controls. Dementia-related medications were prescribed more frequently to former players than to controls. These observations need to be confirmed in prospective matched-cohort studies. (Funded by the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association.)
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